The 7 Worst Lessons 80s Cartoons Taught Us About Drugs
The cartoons we grew up on were about men in fur underwear wielding magic swords. We didn't expect them to teach us a lot about real-world problems. But either because of political pressures during the Reagan administration, or as a way to cover the fact that they were aggressively high while making it, many of them felt the need to include at least one anti-drug episode. These were exactly as informative as you'd expect.
He-Man -- "Hypocrisy and Violence Are Fine (As Long As You Win)!"
Cartoons had two choices when portraying drug addicts: turn one of the main characters into an idiot or import one specifically to hook them on drugs. The creators of He-Man chose the second option harder than they get when they see shirtless men. Enter Teela's friend Illeena, who is weaker than natural selection in John and Kate's house and even more annoying to watch. Illena is visiting, and while everyone on Eternia has a stupid superpower, Illeena skips the middle man and sets about proving that stupidity can be its own superpower. Her first words are, "Are we there yet?" after the ship has already landed. We soon learn that her defense against minefields, magic spells and meeting friends is to sit down and whine.
She's also the noble for whom a boob tube would be formal wear.
You'd cheer anything which changed her personality, up to and including decapitation. An evil wizard agrees and gets her hooked on a magic potion. He-Man, who secretly hides from his friends to inject magic strength-boosting power into his body with a pointy metal implement at least once every 27 minutes, disapproves. He also forcibly injects a friend against their will so that they can have a better time together, making him the Titanic Team-Up version of date rape.
Not pictured: consent.
He couldn't have been more hypocritical if he'd started campaigning against fur and public nudity, and his brilliant plan is to call the dealer and start a fight. WARNING: THIS ONLY WORKS IF YOU'RE ACTUALLY HE-MAN. Having defeated evil magic and common sense, He-Man then dares logic to kill him by staring directly at the camera and saying there's no such thing as a magic solution to all your problems.
Fortunately, irony bounces off He-Man like lasers and homoerotic subtext.
Galaxy High -- "Winners TOTALLY Do Drugs!"
In Galaxy High, aliens sent people to high school instead of anally probing them. Of course, if you're the sort of person who fondly remembers Galaxy High, high school probably seems like the worse fate. This episode mocks both jocks and drugs, which is bad news for Doyle, a jock who takes drugs. The alien "Brain Blaster" drugstitute can make you brilliant at any one thing but criminally retarded at everything else.
What drugs looked like in 80s cartoons.
The Brain Blaster is dealt by Punk McThrust, the best porno name ever accidentally given to a cartoon character. It reduces Doyle from idiot to criminal bum in about 15 minutes. Doyle then becomes convinced he needs one last hit to play in the Psyche Hockey Championship. Fortunately, his friends rescue him, throw away the Blaster, tell him to believe in himself and he finds that inside him all along was the power to have his ass handed to him in public. He is absolutely destroyed. No one has lost a public sporting event so humiliatingly since Spain entered healthy basketballers in the 2000 Paralympics.
But it magically works out when his opponent is revealed to be using a Brain Blaster, just like Doyle wanted to. Everyone in the championship was either on drugs or sucked. There is absolutely no middle ground. Winners DO Take Drugs -- it's just that they get caught and punished.
At no point is being on drugs anything less than fantastic -- it's only not being able to afford the drugs or being caught that suck. When addicts would agree with your anti-drug episode it may have a few problems. Fortunately, kids were quickly cued into the fact that this space cartoon doesn't cohere to real life since athletes actually surrender their awards and go to jail when caught.
Anything to get them away from that audience.
Smurfs -- "Violence Solves Everything, Especially If You're Tiny"
It's hard to talk seriously about drugs when you're bright blue, living in a giant mushroom and have replaced 50 percent of your vocabulary with your own species' name the same way stoners say "man" every second word. Which is probably why Smurfs got it ass-backwards with a drug that makes them work harder and also means wow we're really talking about Smurf-cocaine here.
In retrospect we should have suspected something.
Poet Smurf is hanging out by a babbling brook under the bole of an old oak tree, the Smurf equivalent of an inner-city ghetto, when an evil witch gives him the magic orb. This orb makes Smurfs work 10 times faster but also makes them terrible at their jobs. And when you're named after your occupation, that's a drug-fueled existential problem way more serious than "What's it all really all about, Smurf?" When Grandpa Smurf confiscates the orb, it results in a Smurfian crimewave: a single count of breaking and entering. Well, "entering without asking" because Smurf doors don't have locks. But that's just as serious when your entire society depends on everyone A) being best friends and B) not doing anything hasty about how there's only one girl.
Hefty Smurf tip: Giving the strong guy a tattoo saves you from learning to draw a different shape.
Discovering that his friends are addicted, Hefty Smurf destroys their supply and shouts at them. Demonstrating a very unSmurfy understanding of the real world, this doesn't work and instead drives the Smurfjunkies into chemical slavery. That's when Hefty singlehandedly attacks the witch's stronghold. The addicts then smash up her magic crystals and Jokey Smurf blows her up with one of his "joke gifts" -- or as we'd call it now, an IED. So the Smurf response to drug dealers is unrelenting violence, making Hefty the smallest, bluest Punisher in history.
And the only male smurf to ever inspire voyeurism.
GI Joe -- "You Can Abandon Every Other Moral as Long as You Don't Take Drugs"
GI Joe and COBRA discover "Spark" when a lunatic gets high and charges into a civilian airport armed with missiles and more drugs. GI Joe caught terrorists so often that he spent the entire decade fighting the same exact ones, and this episode is no exception. The drug-crazed airport attacker is none other than the Joe's own Lt. Falcon, whom you might remember from other episodes as the team screw up. If there was a mistake to make, a female Joe to harass or drugs around, Falcon was on all three (until the woman punched him).
Lt. Falcon's preflight checklist. When most people get high they don't add "altitude" and "explosives."
In this episode, he's defeated by drug dealers, gravity and a door before Duke kicks him out of the Joes for being on drugs. Duke then rewards COBRA for not being on drugs and teams up with him, despite the fact that he's still the evil terrorists he's sworn to destroy. Every single other Joe is against this plan, and Bulletproof opts for a less drastic more sane option: advising Falcon to get help.
When your common-sense guy carries two live grenades at all times, you're in trouble.
Nobody listens to Bulletproof's logic, which is fortunate, because the combined Joe/COBRA force ends up fighting the greatest drug villain of all-time. The Headman looks like Miami Vice created their own Joker by knocking a villain into a vat of concentrated 80s, and is so evil and high that he cannot keep his voice the same tone, accent or volume for two consecutive syllables.
More proof from the 80s that you should shoot men with blond ponytails on sight.
The Headman takes on every single enemy next to his huge vat of drugs and he ends up overdosing and exploding. And then he's dead. It's the only official death in a series where everyone's primary occupation was "Fire guns at each other."
If you only have one death for the whole series, it might as well be Mr. Pedostache here.
To quickly recap: The Joes abandon their job, their morals, start hanging around with COBRA (GI Joe's resident wrong crowd) and eventually kill someone for the first time, all because of drugs. For a group so violently opposed to drug addiction, that sounds a lot like being a violent drug addict.
The Raccoons -- "Drugs Are No Fun"
The Raccoons was almost sarcastically Canadian, featuring a family of raccoons living in a forest by a great lake where everyone was nice. The subplot of every show was how wonderful bike rides through the trees were. A show wouldn't be this coniferous until Stargate SG-1, and at least they remembered to bring guns to make it exciting. It wasn't a fun cartoon, it was a scientific experiment to prove that children would watch anything as long as it was animated.
MOVING COLORS ON A SCREEN. MUST WATCH!
"The Chips Are Down" featured a metaphor more torturous than the Spanish Inquisition studying corporate law. Bert the Raccoon gets "addicted" to the bad guy's brand of horrible, soggy chips because they promise a fabulous bike as a prize. He sells everything he owns and suffers every downside: addiction, fatigue, poor health and a ridiculously messed up fever dream -- teaching every kid watching that you shouldn't do transparently unappealing drugs that provide no tangible benefit. Anyone who understood the analogy didn't need it, or was already on drugs because they were watching The Raccoons.
This cartoon looks like it would take you some dark places with the wrong psychedelics.
Unfortunately, The Raccoons was so relentlessly nice that Bert could snort Ebola and it would have mutated into the cure for cancer and sadness. After agreeing to quit chips, he goes for one last bag, which lands him in a streetfight that ends up destroying his friends' belongings.
And here's where this episode wins the coveted Worst Drug Advice Ever award. Either because the writers had lost track of their own metaphor or simply really liked drugs, the last bag really does contain the ultimate prize that fixes everything. So The Raccoons wasn't just giving bad advice to kids who've never seen drugs -- they were telling kids who had used them that if you stick with it long enough, this whole drug thing's going to pay off.
Keep chasing that dragon, and one day you'll catch him!
At least every other cartoon admitted that drugs provided only short-term gratification that was bad for your health in the long term -- which was a pretty ballsy admission for something designed to hold kids motionless in front of the TV for as long as possible. This episode would easily take the top spot if I suspected that anyone who wasn't researching this article had actually watched it all the way through to the end.
Captain Planet -- "Avoid Free Drugs"
Captain Planet didn't start its run until 1990, but it was either an elaborate homage to the 80s, or it was a shelved 80s cartoon about kids fighting to save an orphanage that got revived when someone went through and replaced every instance of orphanage with "the environment."
Anyone not convinced by this theory need only look at its anti-drug episode for proof. According to the 80s, a drug addict's biggest problem was trying to unload all these drugs he's got on some uncool kid who doesn't want to try them. According to the 80s, drugs promoted such an incredible spirit of sharing, Oscar could have been dealing drugs on Sesame Street. Captain Planet's gritty telling of the drug epidemic totally nails this lesson when narcotics brainwash the entire city of Washington. Russian Planeteer Linka is visiting her family (every single one of whom makes Zangief sound like Bruce Springsteen) and her cousin is on drugs!
And therefore cool and evil!
These drugs are sold by Verminious Skumm, who is an actual human rat because Captain Planet is to subtlety what he is to timeless hairstyles.
"My ecomullet says DRUGS ARE BAD!"
The rest of the episode is people desperately employing trickery, threats and physical violence to force drugs into other people, which is only a couple words off from what actual drug addicts do. Proving that their understanding of the drug trade and character motivation is exactly wrong, the dealer is the only person who doesn't give out even the first hit of his drugs for free, and he was a giant rat bent on enslaving America. He's somewhat successful, because at a certain point, the White House is under attack by zombie-addicts. Which could have been a kickass plot, except the Planeteers spend most of the episode running away from people who are so fantastically unarmed that they can't work door handles.
Cousin Russianovitch using his head.
Linka spends the entire fight refusing to call Captain Planet because she's trying to get Wheeler to take her last pill. We know the PC brigade behind the uber-preacher Captain Planet didn't hang out with junkies, or people who drank more than one glass of wine, but protecting yourself from an addict's free drugs is about as useful a message as teaching us to resist Donald Trump's sex appeal.
Life Tip: Stick to the drug dealers without tails.
BraveStarr -- "Rat Out Everyone Instantly"
Bravestarr was Filmation's awesome follow up to He-Man. It was a sequel in the same way a Swedish masseuse is evolution's sequel to monkeys jacking off. It was like the company decided to apologize for He-Man having 130 episodes but only two punch animations.
To start with, BraveStarr's animal buddy never whined and instead had a kickass mode and a MORE kickass mode. BraveStarr was a sheriff, which meant he ran towards trouble instead of away from it. He and Orko had four times as many powers and didn't save them for once an episode. They used their animal powers more often than you use your mobile phone. That's why 100 percent of all crimes on New Texas were resolved by Bear Fighting ... and BraveStarr was the bear.
You have the right to be MAULED BY A BEAR!
It was also the best anti-drug episode of all-time because they flat out kill a kid, and we'd like to clarify that sentence before it earns us a federal visit. Eighties characters could host a grenade-eating competition against suicide-bombers in an orphanage and not one child would be scratched*. But in BraveStarr, drugs actually had irreversible consequences. And the kid actually enjoyed the drugs. It's almost like drugs are attractive in the short term! There was even understanding for violent maniacs when a huge drugged up thug is protected from vigilante beatings by Bravestarr. They had 80s writers who actually seemed to know about narcotics. I'm assuming that week's episode of Hills Street Blues had Frank Furillo battling crooked mining prospectors who looked like giant cockroaches.
*Technically the Captain Planet episode killed Linka's cousin. But in the early 90s, making a point by killing a Russian was less emphatic than shouting.
In space, everyone knows you're tripping.
Instead, they give advice that's bad because it's too effective. The good kid fetches the cartoon's titular superhero but his friend still dies, making drugs more evil and powerful than zombie curses, atomic warheads and planet-destroying alien invasions combined. It would be like one of those GI Joe PSAs if Joe showed up in time and the kid still died because the good kid procrastinated. The lesson was very clear: If you don't narc on your friends instantly, they will die and it will be your fault. So BraveStarr's aim was to protect a generation from drugs and peer pressure from friends by making sure they ended up with neither.
"Dead, but finally sober."
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